Christmas memories

Posted on December 5, 2017
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Michelle suggested I should write about my Christmas memories so younger members of the family could know a bit about where I came from.
When I was eight, Dad bought the Durham Chronicle and we moved to the small town of Durham about 30 miles south of Owen Sound on Highway 6.
Two years later, when I was 10, he bought this real stone house on Lambton St. a few blocks East of the main town intersection with Garafraxa. He was not at all well off but it cost only $12,000 and the back half was rented to Doctor Jamieson whose father, David, also a doctor, was speaker of the Ontario Legislature from 1915 to 1919. The speaker’s chair was still at the top of the stairs to the second floor and stayed there until the family finally took it away.
There was also a medium grand piano and a real grandfather clock with weights, chimes on the quarter hour and phase of the moon signs. The piano and clock stayed.
The house had occupied a half block of land. At the back were two garages which had been stables with lofts for the hay and a stone room with no windows for the manure.
Dad sold off two side lots to help with the price. There were two coal furnaces, one with a stoker bin. One of my chores was to remove the ashes and clinkers and keep them supplied with coal.
There were real fireplaces in the living room, dining room and master bedroom. Only the living room one was still in use.
Mom and Dad’s best friends were Fred and Edith O’Brecht and John and Amy Jarratt. The O’Brechts had a local dairy. John Jarratt was the school music teacher and director of the Durham High School Girls Drum & Bugle Corps which was the Junior Girls national champion for three consecutive years when I was in my early teens.
My Christmas memories revolve around that living room with the women warming their backsides in front of the fire while John sat at the grand piano playing folk and show tunes for hours on end as long as the others made sure there was always a stein of beer beside him.
Mother also had a large collection of 78 rpm albums of folk music and negro spirituals. Mahalia Jackson, Miriam Makeba, Burl Ives and the like were the sound track of our social lives.
Other party regulars included John Bergenheimer, a Danish immigrant photographer. He brought a Danish liqueur which I curiously got into one night. The bar was in the kitchen and unattended. It tasted like a combination of rotten fish and methyl hydrate and put me off experimenting with booze for several years.
One night, they ran out of wood for the fire place. A couple of the men went out to hunt for some. They found a broken telephone or power pole lying along the side of the town hill. It had been replaced and left behind. They opened the trunk, rigged up a rope to drag it along behind and brought it home.
They had neither the right equipment nor the inclination to cut it up so they just dragged it into the living room and stuck one end in the fireplace.
Not long afterward, the whole town police force, one man, Paul White, turned up to investigate. He had seen the odd tracks in the snow down the main street, through the main intersection and up and into our house.
He joined the party.

There were always treats and we kids got some. Even after we went to bed, we could hear the music and singing from upstairs.
Often the party would still be going on when my brother Mike came downstairs to do his Globe and Mail morning delivery. That became a signal it was time for the adults to call it a night.
The living room was huge with glassed French doors. When the tree was up and decorated — popcorn and cranberry strings, tinsel and fragile glass ornaments we had popcorn and hot chocolate and the doors were closed until Christmas morning to keep us out from under the tree.
Christmas morning was a highly disciplined affair designed to prevent us kids from getting sugar crazy.
We woke up to our stockings by our beds. That kept us busy for awhile until our parents were ready to surface. They always included an orange, a BC Delicious apple, a small box of Sunkist raisins and then other little gifts.
Then came breakfast, oatmeal porridge.
Then we had to make our beds and tear up the bread for the turkey stuffing. When the kitchen was cleaned up and the turkey in the oven we got to the gifts under the tree.
Some of those gifts still stick in my memory. My favourite ever was a real steam engine about the size of a loaf of bread. I have a vague recollection it was related to Meccano metal construction sets. I had a ball with it until the fuel ran out. I went to Dad to see about getting more. The fuel was methyl hydrate, a serious poison with skull and cross bones label. My steam engine never ran again.
Another favourite gift came from my Dad’s sister, Aunt Katie Smith. She made felt cowboy outfits for my brother and me. They were a cream coloured base with blue on top. We got vests, chaps, and holsters. The outfits were cool but what really blew us away was that Aunt Katie had made them herself.
Another great gift was a curling sweater than Mom and Dad had made for me. They were the rage at the time, custom made by local knitters. Mine had a Thunderbird totem on the back.
To this very day, when the tree is up and decorated, there is Christmas music on the stereo, a roaring fire in the fire place and family and, or, friends sitting back with full glasses, I plop into the Christmas spirit and stay there until New Year’s Eve.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Jingle Bells!


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